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August 14, 2011

Salt Spring: 'You Gotta Serve Somebody'

 My sister, June, came to visit and as a result I took the opportunity to eat out on Salt Spring during this busiest month of tourist season. It was very interesting.  When I first arrived on island, I was always eating out but that was almost 3 years ago now. This past year, I really haven’t eaten out much at all and it's usually just coffee or lunch. Now, after a really nice visit of eating out a lot, I noticed some things about service. While it isn`t brain surgery, I know for certain that it's way harder than it looks from the receiving side of the table and yet if you have to serve somebody, you might as well get it right.
Help me figure out how to behave when I grace your doorstep. Is it okay to sit down? Should I take that table over there even though it’s huge but it’s the only one left? Am I supposed to wait at the door? Why is there no sign telling me what to do? How come nobody is coming up to meet me even though I’m wandering through the restaurant? It’s so much more comfortable for patrons when they are clear on what to do as soon as they arrive.

Acknowledge my existence. I’m not saying that I need a dedicated greeter. I don’t need to feel like I’ve just entered WalMart, but you know, if I wanted to be invisible, I’d stay home. If I’m going to give you money, I want you to pretend to care. 
Menus should be enticing. Maybe it’s the writer in me. I don’t want to just know what it is. Otherwise, menus could just say hunk of meat, piece of lettuce, some kind of root vegetable.  I want you to make me want it by using descriptive language that helps me imagine it. Here’s the difference. 1. Chicken. Chef’s daily potato. Seasonal vegetables  or 2. A Juniper & rosemary-brined breast with a Tuscan heirloom tomato bread salad and roast fingerling potatoes.” Which one do you think you’re going to order?  

Let me read it for a moment, already! If you’re a server and you just handed me the drink menu, unless I eat at your establishment weekly, I might actually have to look at the wine list which will take me longer than 5 seconds. Give me a couple of minutes to examine it without hovering and awaiting my decision.

Ask me what I think.  One of the restaurants handed us a survey with the bill. They asked the question, "What is one thing we could do differently?" That’s a great question. More restaurants/coffee shops on Salt Spring should have comment cards or dedicate one month to specifically giving out very short (no more than 5 questions) surveys. They could offer a chance to win one free dinner as the prize for filling out the survey.

This tip is for patrons in choosing a place to eat. If you go to a restaurant that has a communal lay-out where everyone eats at the same table, don’t sit down across from me with your newspaper and your crossword puzzle and not even acknowledge me. Work with "the concept. At the very least, say Hello. I mean, really, if you want to be alone, get take-out or sit outside. Maybe you're just pathologically shy but if I wanted to sit across from someone doing a crossword or reading the paper while I’m eating at a communal table, I could choose to put myself in that situation; sometimes they call it marriage. 

Everybody deserves a second chance. It’s easy to pigeon-hole restaurants based on one bad experience and decide forevermore that a particular place is crap. It’s the death knell of restaurants, especially on a tiny little island. People have bad days. So do businesses. I was surprised when we ate at one place (chosen for its deck) that I’d pretty much written off a few years ago as not having good food or service. Lo and behold, they changed my mind.
Bon Appetit!